It has been longer than he'd like, longer almost than he can remember since jockey Eddie Delahoussaye has been on a horse he likes so much, been on a horse he trusts and understands, been on a horse he thinks can win a big stakes race.
Today when Delahoussaye gets aboard Out Of Mind, a 5-year-old Brazilian-bred horse who has overcome a serious spinal infection and figures to be the second betting choice for the $1-million Sempra Energy Hollywood Gold Cup, he will be excited. A victory by Out Of Mind would give Delahoussaye, 48, a feeling he doesn't have that often anymore.
But on Monday, Delahoussaye will sit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center while a neurosurgeon cuts into the head of his wife, Juanita, and tries to repair an aneurysm, a weakening of a blood vessel, just below her brain.
If you ask Delahoussaye to see an irony, if you wonder out loud whether Out Of Mind is a sudden blessing offered to the Cajun jockey to somehow ease the fears that have dogged Eddie and Juanita for six weeks, ever since Juanita was stricken with a monstrous headache, Delahoussaye says no.
There is no magical plan, no irony at all in the arrival of the special horse and horrible illness. That is just life, Delahoussaye says.
"It's just the way things go with life," he says. "It's just what happens to people. Good and bad."
It has been a fine racing career for Delahoussaye. He was racing horses bareback in New Iberia, La., when he was 9 and an uncle told him he'd make a good jockey. Eddie met Juanita at a racetrack, Evangeline Downs. Juanita was beautiful, Eddie says, and she liked the horses.
Delahoussaye knows about winning and what it brings. He won consecutive Kentucky Derbies--aboard Gato Del Sol in 1982 and Sunny's Halo in 1983. He won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in 1988 with Risen Star. He has won seven Breeders' Cup races. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1993. He is one of the sport's most-respected jockeys.
Blessed he is, Delahoussaye says. But also never without difficulties.
Eddie and Juanita came West, leaving their beloved Louisiana because their oldest child, daughter Mandy, was born severely mentally handicapped. The tracks were good in Louisiana, Eddie says, but more important, Mandy could go to special schools in Southern California, better than anything he and Juanita could find in their home state.
Mandy is 24 now.
"Her mind is that of a 3-year-old, but she is the joy of our lives, the happiest person I know," Eddie says. "Mandy still goes to school every day and Juanita has done a great job of being with her all the time. It was for the best that we came here. Juanita didn't want to at first and now I could never get her to leave and go home."
Eddie and Juanita also have a 21-year-old son, Loren, who hopes for a career in fashion design. Loren and Mandy have given Eddie and Juanita great joy. "We've had a great life so far," Eddie says. "I would never say life had been unfair to us."
When Delahoussaye won the 1992 Belmont on A.P. Indy, instead of accepting a new Chrysler as part of his winnings, Delahoussaye asked Chrysler to write three checks, totaling the value of the car, that Delahoussaye could give to three charities.
There haven't been many big victories since then for Delahoussaye. For the last six years, he has suffered from sinus trouble.
"I've had trouble flying," he says. "I don't want to fly much. Owners know that and maybe are hesitant to give me rides if they think I won't travel much."
Trainer Richard Mandella, however, had no qualms about offering Delahoussaye Out Of Mind. The horse hadn't been running to expectations since being brought to Southern California from Brazil--where he was a Grade II race winner. Delahoussaye was given the mount last year, and received no particular instructions. He rode Out Of Mind by feel--and the horse has gone from an also-ran in high-priced optional claiming races to one of the top runners in the handicap division.
"I just had a feeling this horse would run from behind," Delahoussaye says. "He can be 20 lengths off the lead and come all the way back."
Out Of Mind has won the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap May 13 at Hollywood Park and finished second in the Massachusetts Handicap June 3. Delahoussaye even flew cross-country to ride Out Of Mind in that race.
Juanita will be in a box at Hollywood Park today. For a day, she will try to think of something besides Monday's surgery. That may not be easy.
When Juanita's headaches didn't go away, an MRI exam was done. It showed that Juanita has two aneurysms. One is in a hard-to-reach place and if it ruptured, would not threaten Juanita's life. It will be left alone.
The second, however, if it ruptures, might kill Juanita. That's the target of the surgery.
"They tell us the operation has an 80% success rate," Delahoussaye says. "Those odds sound pretty good."
There have been many times
when it was Juanita waiting at a hospital while an injured Eddie was tended to.
"Once I was in a coma for four days," Eddie says. "I guess I didn't understand how hard that was for Juanita, just waiting. Now I do."
Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.